Wanting something is the wrong way to go about getting it done.
Nobody knew this like Reverend Charles Robert Moore. He wanted so many things. The ruling in Brown vs. The Board of Education ended legal segregation in the United States, and the young reverend was fired from his post for celebrating this in the most cautious sense from the pulpit. He would not make that mistake ever again, to be cautious in the face of injustice. He stood outside the governor’s mansion protesting the executions of 150 prisoners during Governor George Bush’s tenure. He defied the traditions and doctrine of the Methodist Church by opening the doors of his church to the nascent Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Austin, but being tolerated by the church was not enough for him. He stopped eating, and on the 15th day of his fast the bishops acquiesced to his demand that the church accept responsibility for its contribution to the suffering of the gay community, which they did by proclamation. His faith took him to India, Africa, the Middle East, Chicago, Austin, and ultimately back to his hometown of Grand Saline, Texas where his deepest memories of shame and inequality were born.
Reverend Moore made a mess of his life. All three of his marriages ended because he could not make room for the comfort and love of relationships that distracted from his desire for justice. His children suffered his absences.
At 79 years-old, in 2014, he was elated by the election of Barack Obama, the first and only black President of the United States, but the hatred and racism that accompanied the moment left him heart-sick and stricken with defeat. His lifetime of wanting had brought him nowhere. He was still in Grand Saline, Texas, a child unable to make a difference. Charlie Moore was a coward, a failure, a loser.
On June 23rd of that year he drove to a strip mall on the edge of town in Grand Saline. He paced for hours in front of the Dollar General store, while curious watchers noticed him, musing about his circumstances. They watched him finally open his trunk, pull a foam pad from it and place it on the ground. Those watching assumed he must be praying, perhaps a Muslim. He kneeled and lifted a container to his head and poured liquid all over his legs, his chest, and his head. Being June in Texas it was a steamy afternoon.
As the fumes from the gasoline choked his breath away, he pulled from his pocket a lighter and sparked it.
On the windshield of his car, he left this note.
Holy moly! Yet I’m surprised that the newpaper even printed his letter.
It is the least they could do for him I guess, since he went to the trouble. Such a horrifying sense of responsibility he carried. Our neighbor came by last night and were discussing our shared sense of loss from the election, and I’ll paraphrase something she said, like, “It is not our job to win, but to enjoy the fight.” I love that.
Horrified and filled with grief for what Reverend Moore experienced and the pain and suffering it caused him, I held my breath as I read this and then returned to the opening line: “Wanting something is the wrong way to go about getting it done.” As I ponder it, I nod in agreement that we can want something too much…because the not having it is heartbreaking, like the personal way I want my son to not be mentally ill, to have a full and rich life. And the personal but larger way I want our nation to be different as it is laid bare like a rotting carcass for all the vultures to pick over. What I don’t know is how to *not* want these things or what the better way is to get them done. To not care feels like snuffing out the soul. I know Buddhists teach that our attachment to wanting is what makes us suffer, and I believe it because I live it. But how does not wanting compare to not caring? I can’t separate the two. [Apologies for my long comment. I’m still mourning.]
All of my bitterness is in that sentence. I guess I am alluding to the analogy of “liking” things on social media doesn’t change anything, and wanting the world to be different isn’t accomplished by the wanting. The desire, of course, initiates the journey, but the only way progress happens is behavioral change. Go somewhere different, speak to different people in a different manner (maybe tell them to fuck off? Maybe buy their coffee? I don’t know.) I see sites where people can make reparations for slavery on an individual basis, for example. What I don’t see, is myself, or anyone else choosing to lower their place in the world to elevate someone else’s. I only make the payment on my minivan, for example. There are also no Syrian refugees currently in my home.
Ah, I am beginning to understand now. You’re talking about self-sacrifice, a rare commodity but maybe not as rare as it seems. I believe that parents do that for their children, but we don’t see examples of it despite the tsunami of social media posts that say, “Look at me.” Despite the explicit teaching of Jesus to be a servant to others, I don’t see Christians do it, certainly not to the point of great discomfort. I have witnessed people doing without so that others can be better off. The people in Syria (white helmets?) who risk their lives to rescue other people come to mind. I wonder if there are, indeed, people who lower themselves to elevate others… people we never hear about because they are too modest to claim attention. I hope there are. I want to believe it. I have always loved Fred Rogers’s mother’s advice to “look for the helpers” in any tragic circumstance. They are there, but our society doesn’t focus on them. We are all perhaps too comfortable in our privilege, aren’t we?